Facebook Twitter

Alta, East appear to be the teams to beat

SHARE Alta, East appear to be the teams to beat

Teams trying to repeat as champions know their pursuit is accompanied by a big bull's-eye. In 5A girls' soccer, the hunted never escapes.

In the seven years since Utah expanded to a fifth classification, no 5A team has ever successfully defended its title. Alta could spoil that trend this year.

An overwhelming majority of 5A coaches tabbed the Hawks as the team to beat in a preseason poll, and why not. Alta won its first state championship last year by reeling off 17 straight victories following a humbling season-opening 6-3 loss to Brighton.

Alta's dream season came full circle as it went on to beat arch-rival Brighton for the title.

Kim Force, the returning 5A MVP, was hugely responsible for Alta's title having scored 29 goals, but the Hawks won with defense. In 18 games, Alta only surrendered 13 goals. Throw out that opening day shellacking, and it only gave up seven goals during its 17-game winning streak, and only one in the state tournament.

Other teams must have felt like they were shooting at smaller goals.

Alta coach Lee Mitchell knows he won't have quite so good this year.

"We lost our defense, but some players have stepped up and we've got some depth in all areas," said Mitchell.

One luxury Mitchell has is Megan Mills, who's entering her fourth year as the Hawks' starting keeper. Mills will need to play solid while Alta's youthful defense works out some kinks.

If defense was Alta's strength last year, offense will be the teams forte in 2000. In addition to the return of the highly recruited Force, who merely honed her skills over the summer by playing with the semi-pro Utah Spiders, the Hawks also return midfielders Season Hall and Kristen Tesch. Both scored 10 goals last year.

Winning another Region 3 title might be as difficult as another state title. Alta's region foes Brighton and Jordan are both ranked in the preseason top 5, and Mountain View will be solid as always.

Up north, don't be surprised if Davis runs away with the Region 1 title. Curtis Caldwell's club returns nine starters, including potent goal-scorers Heather Arnell (21), Nicole Iverson (20) and Bryndie Maag (15).

Layton, which surprised everyone by going to a shootout against Alta in the 5A semifinals, only lost five seniors and figures to challenge Davis and Skyline for the title.

Region 2 is this year's enigma. In 1998 two teams from the traditionally weak region advanced to the semifinals, whereas a year later only one moved past the first round. What will 2000 hold in store? The only thing the region coaches seem to agree on is that it will be a race between Bingham, Taylorsville and Hunter.

CLASS 4A

If repeating in 5A is rare, it's almost ridiculously common in 4A with four repeat winners in the 90s. East will have its hands full duplicating such success.

The Leopards surprised everyone last year by beating undefeated Bountiful in the championship, which came after two regular season losses to the Braves. The rivalry should only intensify this year.

"I think the pressure got to everyone last year being undefeated," said Bountiful coach Dave Wigham. "But I don't think we choked."

In reality, a Braves squad that lost 15 seniors shouldn't even dream of contending for state again, but that's the luxury Wigham has; he just reloads.

East on the other hand only lost three seniors, including star forward Maren Campbell and star defender Ashley Tolbert. If coach Mike Kernodle can find two kids to fill those shoes, East will be awfully difficult to beat. Sarah Lake and Ashley Smith will be counted on to raise their games this year for the Leopards.

What makes Bountiful perhaps even scarier this year is the presence of Jamie Muna.

"She's the first legitimate forward we've ever had," said Wigham. "She's got Pac-10 schools talking to her. She's the most improved player I've had over a three-year span."

Throw in midfielder Erin Stock, whose narrowed her college choices down to Washington and BYU, and sweeper Allison McGarvey, and the Braves have prime-time players at each position.

Neither team will have to wait long to find out who's better. The Region 5 foes hook up next Tuesday.

Region 4 is hands down the state's most competitive region, and 2000 should be no different considering five teams could legitimately win the region title.

Weber took home region honors last year, and advanced to the state semifinals, before losing to East. The Wildcats only return four starters, but coach Velden Wardle says, "We should be a strong team, and we'll contend for the region title."

Sky View and Mountain Crest will both try bouncing back from disappointing 7-7 seasons, while Bonneville and Fremont will try building on successful 10-4 campaigns.

"I think Weber and Bonneville are the two top teams, and we're right in the middle," said Mountain Crest coach Steve Saunders, whose team won the 4A title in 1998. "We're awfully young. We only have three seniors."

In the Happy Valley region, expect another competitive season on the heals of 1999 in which every time lost at least twice in region. Lone Peak has to be considered the early favorite after returning 14 letter winners from last year's semifinal team.

CLASS 3A

Park City is on the verge of establishing a dynasty. The Miners have won two of the last three 3A titles, and with only four seniors departing from last year's 13-1 team, 3-for-4 is a very distinct possibility.

"I like my team," said first-year coach Frank Fish. "I haven't seen any of the other teams, but I know my team is confident."

Fish knows taking over a proven winner has its ups and down. If the Miners win, it's not that surprising because everyone expected it. If the Miners lose, however, "it's all my fault," he said jokingly.

Highlighting Park City's roster is returning 3A MVP Brittany Esty. By no means do the Miners rely on just her. Jenna Martin, Jackie Krieger and Marie Fournier are all solid players in the field and goalkeeper Ryan Tolpinrud is a returning all-stater.

"We're strong all over," said Fish.

Park City's Region 10 rival Judge is in a similar situation. The Bulldogs only lost three starters from last year's semifinal team that was co-region champs with Park City.

Ogden and Ben Lomond should duke it out for the Region 7 title as always, while the shame should hold true for Waterford and Delta in Region 8.

In the state's southern region, Pine View will be hard-pressed to match last year's impressive season. The Panthers lost nine seniors from a team that went undefeated in preseason play, undefeated in Region 9 play, and didn't experience defeat until a shootout loss to Park City in the final.


E-MAIL: jedward@desnews.com